Adam DeGross gathers Minnesota punk and metal photos for Pay Attention book
Adam DeGross has come a long way since he first brought his camera to a show as an 18-year-old. Without formal training, he's captured thousands and thousands of shots at local concerts and, come January 5, he will release 400 of them in the form of Pay Attention, a collection of photos of Minnesota subculture.
Stretching across the many punk sub-genres in effort to capture the larger community, the book compiles photos of local bands and luminaries, touring artists, and assorted street and cultural shots that document the local scene over the past near-decade. The book follows DeGross's induction into the Andersen Archives at the University of Minnesota, and the photos in the book were largely culled from his work that was archived there.
DeGross attends roughly six shows per week, usually after a full shift at his warehouse job. He has grown as a photographer through experience, developing his style and studying the art. He started taking photos at shows he booked himself, and as he shared the photos the hobby grew.
"If there wasn't a MySpace when I started I don't know what I would have done," he says. "It was an instant medium for people to actually see it...Social networking changed my whole game with photos."
Since the beginning he has shared his work online, but largely stayed within the subversive subculture scenes of punk, hardcore, crust, and black metal. "I never really had an outside perspective from somebody who is not in the scene," he says of the genesis of Pay Attention. That changed when he met a fellow photographer at the warehouse. "It was someone at my work talking me into it," he says. "I just thought, 'I've got to finally do something.'"
His photos appear online, in videos, promo shots, and album sleeves for many bands, both local and national. They reflect his unique view and craft and are not intended as promotional material. "There's a fine line where I think, "Yes, this photo is of them and it's cool, they can use it," DeGross explains, gesturing at his book, "but I feel like it's me interpreting what they're portraying on the world." He references a photo in the book in front of him. "This photo isn't of these two guys, it's of what they're portraying publicly. This isn't Black Breath, it's a band. You're supposed to take something from that."
His photography beckons a response. To exemplify his style, he references the Clash's London Calling cover. "It's not even in focus, but it speaks to punk. It was like a punch to me." It's a document, an archive, but also a portrayal of the emotion and attitude behind the Minnesota subcultural forces of the past several years. "This is for everyone, not just me," he humbly explains of the book. "Everyone has been really receptive and I'm happy about that. It's for them, it's not for me."
The photos inside vary in subject, positioning an Off With Their Heads promo shot next to a straight edge hardcore band, and including people walking down the street or socializing among friends. It pulls from multiple elements with a common punk thread. "I feel like punk is such a big, broad word now and everyone is so sick of saying the word that now they have different genres of this and that."
Referencing his book again, he explains, "This band would never play with that band, but I can put them together in my book because, as a whole, that's what punk and hardcore is. It's all one big thing." He purposely avoided captions so people will view each photo equally, free of association based on the musicians' own work.
DeGross self-funded Pay Attention in true DIY spirit. "There might be a limited amount of books, but at least I didn't owe it to anybody else. If it fails, it fails on me. If it succeeds, good." Instead of reaching out through crowd funding sources, "[Let's] make it a party, ride out the interest on my credit card for a month, and then hopefully it pays off." He is selling the book below cost, but hopes to sell enough prints at the opening to break even. There is also the hope that his initial run will get the attention of a publisher to finance a second printing.
If Facebook is any indicator (and given his experience with social media it seems appropriate), the release will be a success. Nearly 800 have committed to attend, and bands False, Frozen Teens, Arms Aloft, Agitate, and Ponx Attax will be playing alongside the display of 300 11"x17" prints. He even plans to give away free prints to mark the first few book sales.
"When these [books] are gone, they're gone. Maybe I'll reissue a few more, but I had to do this all by myself. One run and hopefully it sticks or someone is into it." After photographing hundreds of shows, traveling the United States and Europe with bands, and staying up way too late, this is a night for DeGross to focus only on his work for once. "I'm not going to bring my camera," he laughs.
The release of Pay Attention will be celebrated January 5, 2013 at Brickmania with live music and an exhibition of photos beginning at 4 p.m. For more information visit the facebook event.
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